2021 is set to redefine marketing in the 21st Century

The post-COVID world has accelerated change in the marketing industry, says Accenture Interactive managing director Bronwyn van der Merwe.

The events of 2020 upended so much of what we took for granted, but also clarified what’s important, reignited community spirit and ingenuity, and generated worldwide change. Emerging from this shadow, there is a universal need to look forward with focus and engage with people on their own terms. There is a sensation of new beginnings to the year ahead and tempered excitement around emerging trends that will shape the future marketing landscape.

Rise of the individual 

Almost overnight, people started living very differently, which changed the way they gather information. For instance, people avoiding public transport won’t see the advertising that used to adorn their daily commutes. This collective displacement has created a need for marketers to adapt to new routines with fresh ideas and seek new touchpoints of interaction. The solutions to these problems for marketers lie in bespoke, individualised customer experiences that restore the connection, sense of place and belonging that have been damaged by the pandemic.

Marketers taking up this challenge won’t be stuck for inspiration. Individual innovation and ingenuity came to the fore in 2020 to tackle urgent problems that couldn’t wait for wholesale solutions. From home-workers repurposing their ironing board as a standing desk to entrepreneurs launching new businesses. As part of their drive to start thinking of people as co-creators, brands will need to reframe their own role in the relationship from sole fixer to collaborative enabler. Nike’s personalised footwear proposition Nike By You is a platform that lets people tailor their own perfect shoe. Meanwhile, social gaming platform Roblox is growing fast, letting players design, buy and sell digital fashion items.

Opportunities now exist for marketers to narrow the divide between brands and consumers. One of the reasons many of us found 2020 emotionally challenging was the loss or disruption of the rituals we’ve built our lives around. Simply shifting a ritual online overlooks the emotional significance attached to it. However, in Japan, an app allowing smartphone users to cheer (or jeer) remotely during a match and have that sound played live in the stadium recreated both the ritual, and the associated feelings. Marketers that understand the blank space left by a lost ritual, will jump into the driving seat for designing the new individualised way of things, creating opportunities to help people in their search for comfort and security.

Increasing flexibility, choice and convenience 

How and where we get things changed a lot in 2020. To resonate with individualised audiences, marketers must adopt a customer experience (CX) driven approach that informs engagement across all omnichannel touchpoints. At present they’re being disappointed. Starbucks’ new experience for customers at pick-up points or using its app makes these inroads by delivering the same personal experience at all touchpoints, staying true to its core belief in the importance of connection outside home or work, known as “the third place”.

This evolving landscape presents a huge opportunity for marketers whose brands diversify fulfilment through services like click and collect or third-party pickup points. Not only do these services provide broader customer choice and convenience, they provide valuable data and insights to generate personalised marketing initiatives and rewards. International e-commerce solutions provider, Doddle, partnered with Australia Post to realise this brand opportunity by creating the largest pick ip / drop off network in Australia – Australia Post Collect and Return – and found over two-thirds (61%) of shoppers in Australia want to try new delivery options.

The empathy challenge

The impacts of 2020 have facilitated the rise of the conscious consumer, who wants to support socially conscious brands that prioritise their staff and the environment. Brands need to recognise that now more than ever, what they do means more than what they say. This doesn’t mean pandering to social trends, but earning the respect of discerning audiences by establishing a clear standpoint and direction, and communicating it consistently.

Resonating with these messages is a bigger challenge than ever, with customers fatigued by the sameness of templated design in digital. Marketers must lead on reconsidering design, content, audience and the interaction between them to inject greater excitement into screen experiences. Mmhmm, a virtual presentation company launched to make virtual meetings more fun, and recently raised a staggering US$3 million pre-launch, a powerful illustration of the scope for brands to reinvent.

The 21st century starts now

Global disruption has placed marketers at the coalface of unifying brand promise and customer experience. Increased flexibility and choice will help smooth this process whilst the new way of things is being determined, but with a rising trend for individualism, marketers will need to be plugged into their audiences more closely than ever.

Brands worldwide now need to transform their customer experiences across the entire customer journey, seamlessly connecting design, marketing, content and commerce, to create new ways to connect in today’s shifting economy.

The pandemic has set a high bar for creativity, but marketers are perfectly positioned to rise to the challenge, engage with authenticity and settle their audiences into the new rituals of the 21st Century.

Bronwyn van der Merwe is the managing director of Accenture Interactive.


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